Let's Talk Tropes

Trope Rant: Deception and the Heroine’s Meltdown

Here’s the situation: 

I was reading a book one evening (as I do), and the primary trope involved a dishonest beginnings scenario in which the hero was perpetrating the lie and the heroine was deceived. Shocking, I know. I knew this going in, but I always hope for the best when reading. 

Anyway, I was about 60% of the way through this book when everything started hitting the fan (per usual), and I naturally turned to my partners in crime to ask: 

Can you think of a deception plot (false identity or some other intentional secret, not just protagonists being dumb) in which the MAN was the one deceived, subsequently lost his shit, and refused to communicate? And of course, he also assumed that because one thing was a lie, EVERYTHING was a lie? Or is that just a heroine problem?

Because I can’t think of one hero like that.

I feel this trope goes a little something like:

  1. Hero assumes false identity for Noble(ish) Reasons, 
  2. Hero meets heroine, 
  3. Hero thinks maybe this deception was actually NOT the best idea, 
  4. Heroine finds out before hero can confess, 
  6. Heroine refuses to talk to hero because he’s a LYING LIAR,
  7. Then, about 100 pages later when they finally actually TALK, hero admits that his reasons were sound(ish), and he really wanted to confess, and 
  8. Heroine realizes that maybe she should have thought there could be literally one single other explanation to the story before losing her damn mind.

It’s like: “I actually don’t trust you at all! Wait. I was wrong? OMG WE’RE MFEO, SO LET’S GET MARRIED AND HAVE BABIES!”

Holly noted during our text chat that this was exactly the plot of How to Marry a Marquis, and I thought that MAYBE someone could have come up with a fresh take on this trope in the intervening 20+ years since that book was released. Like, maybe the heroine could be, I don’t know, rational and communicative? Especially if she’s supposed to be in love with the hero? Isn’t trust an essential component of that loving relationship? I don’t get it. Mad – sure. Hurt – sure. Rethinking things – very possibly. Quitting the relationship without even talking to the person you’re so in love with?

Alternatively, I would accept a hero who completely loses his shit and behaves with the maturity of a larva. But I’m thinking there’s a reason we don’t see that too much. 

The reason is: that behavior’s not cute.

What do you think of this trope? Love it? Hate it? Ruthlessly impartial toward it? Please let us know of any you can think of one in which the hero was the deceived party. I’d love to read it.

18 thoughts on “Trope Rant: Deception and the Heroine’s Meltdown”

  1. I usually don’t like this trope either, and I avoid false identity plots whenever I can. The misunderstanding is really just very frustrating to go through. I remember a reversal of this, Kelly Bowen’s A Duke to Remember, where the heroine is the one who disguises as a man to fetch a disowned duke, but while the duke was initially angry at the deception, they were able to talk through it. I don’t think I’ve seen the total meltdown on the hero’s side.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe my problem is that I think I’m going to like it because it’s a pretty solid conflict, but then almost every author takes it to this extreme “HOW DARE YOU NOT TELL ME ON MY SCHEDULE INSTEAD OF YOURS?!?! I’M NEVER TALKING TO YOU AGAIN, YOU UNTRUSTWORTHY WORM” space, and I hate it. And then I look at the next book and I’m like, “Oooooo.” Lol. I really do enjoy the trope if it causes a small argument and then the protagonists act like adults.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I absolutely freaking HATE this trope, yes. And I can think of three books right offhand where the hero is the one who totally melts down and assumes everything ever was a lie over the heroine’s one, kinda understandable deception.

    The first one was Potent Pleasures by Eloisa James, one of her first novellas. The hero is an utter temper-driven idiot who reacts to the heroine witholding information with tantrums and literal slut shaming. He refuses to trust her at all and disbelieves even clear evidence that her baby is his child. By the end of the book I honestly hoped she’d die in childbirth, as the text was clearly threatening, just to punish his dumb ass. It’s the only Eloisa James book I’ve ever disliked and boy did I dislike it.

    The other two are early Mary Balogh novellas, Red Rose and A Masked Deception (just read the spoilers on Goodreads for A Masked Deception, it is in no way worth suffering through). The hero being a temper-driven, mistrustful, borderline abusive idiot seems to happen more often in 1980s and 1990s historical romance. Fortunately readers and authors have figured out since then that these are terrible character traits for the hero. If only we could admit that it’s equally unattractive in a heroine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just read some reviews of A Masked Deception on GR and HOLY WOW.

      It’s true that we seem to have moved away from temper-driven, mistrustful, abusive idiot heroes (Erin can maybe answer the question of whether this is true in all subgenres – I’m thinking Motorcycle Club romances might be an exception), thank goodness. But when the woman loses her shit in these books, it has not been backed up by a history of temper / idiocy / tantrums etc. Instead, her mistrust meltdown is not foreshadowed, and reinforces the narrative that Bitches Be Crazy. All of this is just occurring to me after reading your comment, so I don’t have examples off hand to back it up, but I’ll be thinking about it more, because I hate misogyny in romances.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Oooh. That is a good point!

        Just thinking off the top of my head, yes. Those older heroes be crazy, but they tend to react that way several times throughout the book. It’s their ‘personality’ and probably okay because they’re masculine and repress emotions and react aggressively cause ‘manly man’.

        But when the woman does it, it’s more like you describe, a huge overreaction out of nowhere at the reveal, about 70% through the book. It’s not foreshadowed and catches the hero by complete surprise, but it’s understandable cause women are ’emotional’ and Bitches Be Crazy. I think you have detected a true hint of misogyny in these…

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I’m quickly discovering one of the best parts of this blog is talking to other people about romance in sophisticated ways. Your comments have given me a lot to think about!

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I’ve read Potent Pleasures! It didn’t occur to me for this, maybe because I read it so long ago… But also when you mentioned it, I immediately recalled that she seemed to think that he did know the “secret” and they were just horrible at communicating. Is it the same if it’s not an intentional withholding? The result is the same, I guess. That book is an emotional mess in many ways, and I agree with your sentiments entirely. I have a hard time with the voice of MB, so I hear you WRT those two.

        I think Holly’s distilled the issue really well. When those heroes behave that way, they usually have a history of jealousy and mistrust on the page. But when the heroines do it, they pull this nonsense out of the blue after being all lovey-dovey.

        It’s probably harder to find a hero behaving like this these days because the emotionally aware, cinnamon roll hero is so much more popular than the irrational alpha. I don’t even see it that much in MC romance–they’re much more focused on a jealousy/ownership situation, so the heroines don’t typically have an opportunity to create this kind of mess. But I would agree that modern MC romance probably comes the closest to this 90s-aughts style of possessive, mistrustful mess of a hero.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. You know, Judith McNaught totally does heroes like this with her old school historicals. Like, the whole Sequels series and most of the Westmorelands, too. They stress me out like crazy because the heroes are so awful but then when they’re brought low, it’s really satisfying, and that’s a real emotional struggle for me. So then I go back and read Ingrid’s piece about attachment theory and feel a little better.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t read any Judith McNaught and I’m leery of the mistrustful mess heroes…but if they’re brought low and then do some groveling I’m all for that. I love me a good grovel. I like to re-read Ingrid’s piece on attachment theory, too, so I feel better about that urge *shrugs*

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I think you might like to give McNaught (historicals–I’ve never read her contemporary work) a pass. These heroes are much more likely to have a meltdown because the heroine almost dies and they realize they’re in love than because they realize they’re super wrong and they do some serious grovelling.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Ooh, Yes I hate this trope. Like you said, mad, hurt, etc, ok. But total shut down with no communication…how can you do that to someone you actually love? Whether romantically or friend wise? I see it in movies too and it takes the Grand Gesture for the girl to listen. The only time I don’t mind this is if maybe communication between the couple has been written as poor from the start. But at lot of this stuff comes out of left field. I’d be curious to read a guy meltdown too.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Your point makes me think this could be yet another reason that I hate the grand gesture. They should have just talked it through in the first place if they’re supposed to have this great relationship!


      1. Yes. And ggs are so unrealistic. Not saying romance has to be 100% true to life, but it would be nice to see a couple that cares about communication, even if they struggle to be successful at it. I wouldn’t want to be with someone who flew off the handle at the first sign of trouble and shut down all communications with me!

        Liked by 2 people

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